Gustav Nyquist: Red Wings’ Most Important Free Agent

The Detroit Red Wings were eliminated in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games, and now all attention turns to the offseason. On the current roster, the Red Wings have eight free agents,  four restricted and four unrestricted. Of all eight, there is one that the Red Wings should absolutely resign, Gustav Nyquist.

From 4th Round to 1st Line

Nyquist was drafted in the fourth round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft by the Red Wings at 121st overall. The Swedish-born winger spent three years at the University of Maine from 2008-10, scoring 18 goals and 51 points in 36 games in his final season. A the end of his final year in Maine, Nyquist had an eight-game stint with the Wings’ AHL affiliate the Grand Rapids Griffins, scoring a goal and four points.

In his first full season in the AHL Nyquist stood out, scoring 22 goals and 58 points in 56 games in 2011-12, enough to give him a late-season call up to the Red Wings. Much like his transition in his first year in the AHL, Nyquist went through some “growing pains,” scoring only a goal and seven points in 18 games.

Gustav Nyquist Griffins
(Ross Bonander/THW)

He was sent back down to the AHL in the 2012-13 season and once again was exceptional, scoring more than a point per game with 23 goals in 58 games, but once again struggled in the NHL, with three goals and six points in 22 games.

Twenty-one points in 15 games in the 2013-14 season with the Griffins was enough for Nyquist to once again be called up to the Red Wings, and the third time was the charm. In his 57 games with Detroit, Nyquist scored 28 goals and 48 points in 57 games. He also played in six games with Sweden in the Olympics and ten games in the World Cup, scoring four goals and six points in those games.

Nyquist had his first full season with the Wings this year and he did not disappoint, scoring 27 goals, 14 of them on the power play, and 54 points in 82 games. His play earned him first line time with center Henrik Zetterberg and winger Justin Abdelkader. He also played in all seven games in this year’s playoffs, scoring a goal and an assist.

Need for Nyquist

Gustav Nyquist is without a doubt one of the most important forwards on the Red Wings. Of course Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are the two most important, but having wingers around them that are able to put the puck in the net will be crucial to the future success of this team.

The Red Wings have benefited from the success that young players from their system have given them for the last two decades. Just this season, winger Tomas Tatar, 24 years-old, was third on the team in the points with 56 and led the team in goals with 29 while Nyquist, 25, was fourth in points and second in goals. Behind them in points were Justin Abdelkader (28) with 44, Riley Sheehan (23) with 36 and Danny Dekeyser (25) was ninth with 31. Additions from free agency, like center Stephen Weiss, and at the trade deadline, like defenseman Marek Zidlicky, have of course helped along the way, but it’s the Red Wings’ development of their youth that have enabled them to make the playoffs year after year, and Nyquist is no exception.

Nyquist showed this season that he can not only play consistently at the NHL level, but be a valuable top line asset. He not only benefited from playing with guys like Abdelkader and Zetterberg, but made them play better as well. Having nearly half of his goes come on the man advantage is also very impressive. The Red Wings had one of the best power plays in the league in the regular season with a 23.8 percent success rate, and Nyquist was a major reason for that success. To lose a young player like Nyquist to free agency after such a successful season with much of his time on the ice on the top line and a key factor on the power play would be a huge loss for Detroit.

Pay That Man His Money

Nyquist is coming off of a rookie deal that paid him $1.9 million over two years, which comes out to $950,000 annually. Obviously Nyquist is deserves and is going to want much more than that in his negotiations this upcoming offseason. Lucky for Detroit Nyquist is a restricted free agent, so they will be able to give him a qualifying offer before any other teams get a chance to grab him which I believe will most likely lead to an multi-year deal for more money.

Prashanth Iyer wrote in his offseason piece  that he anticipated a three-year deal for Nyquist worth $11 million ($3.67 million annually). This contract pays Nyquist much more than his rookie deal, while also giving the Red Wings a three-year period to see how Nyquist progresses and whether or not he will warrant even more money in his next contract and become a franchise player.

Having a top line player with a $3.67 million a year cap hit is not a bad place to be in if you’re the Detroit Red Wings. And with the salary cap going up in the offseason, the Red Wings will have plenty of space left to grab a few more pieces and re-sign any other free agents they want.

This is only his first full year in the NHL, and Gustav Nyquist has already played well enough to garner top-line minutes on the Detroit Red Wings roster. If the Wings resign him and he excels even further next season, Detroit will have locked down another great player on their roster for the next few years.